Man-Eaters, Volume 1 is a current-day feminist science fiction comic from Image Comics. It comes to us from the Eisner-nominated team of Chelsea Cain, Leah Miternique, and Kate Niemczyk. If these names sound familiar they are the same group that worked on the short-lived Mockingbird series. They are no strangers to creating a controversial feminist comic.
This is a world in which the disease Toxoplasmosis has evolved into a new, terrifying bug Toxoplasmosis X. Normal Toxoplasmosis is transmitted through the parasite, which can lurk in under-cooked meat or contaminated cat feces. It is sometimes called the ‘crazy cat lady disease’ which may have influenced Cain’s storytelling. In Man-Eaters, Toxoplasmosis X doesn’t cause flu-like symptoms or mental cognition problems with compromised immune systems. Instead, it turns menstruating women into killer black panthers who go on murder sprees.
The plot follows a C, A, B structure where it drops the reader into the end and fills in the blanks along the way. We meet 12-year-old Maude whose father is a homicide detective and her mother is a big animal vet. Her parents are divorced, and there’s some friction between them. The homicide detective dad is disgruntled with the Strategic Cat Apprehension Teams (also known as SCAT) that take over his cases when panthers are involved. It turns out the mother is head of the Pacific Northwest SCAT team which just adds more tension between them. Maude lives with her father and has just started her period. Of course, she hides this because if she’s bleeding then there is the possibility she could morph into a killer black panther. The parents have their hands full because there have been a series of brutal murders with a panther on the loose.
In a series of flashbacks that cut between Maude at home and her parents at a murder scene, the reader finds out that the government has gotten involved regarding Toxoplasmosis X. In order to stop women from turning into killer black panthers, the government decides to stop women from menstruating by putting estrogen into the water supply. Men are encouraged to drink water that is estrogen-free and branded as Estropop. Because of the fear of women, segregation starts to occur. Only women are allowed to drink from water fountains at Maude’s school. There are separate lounges for boys and girls at school because boys need a place to just be themselves. At some point, Maude raids the Estropop vending machine in the boy’s lounge and she and her friends start drinking it instead of the tap water. Hence, Maude gets her period, which she’s hiding because she will be in big trouble with her parents. It’s hinted that the panther that is on a murder spree that the parents are tracking may be one of Maude’s classmates. The comic ends with Maude’s eyes glowing panther green.
While this is a feminist comic, it’s not an intersectional feminist comic. It’s a story that I would expect to read from the 1960s, 70s, or 80s from a white feminist. It is very much rooted in the binary idea of gender in that trans and nonbinary people are not included in the narrative. Maude even wears a pink pussy hat. Cain does a lot of work to show how capitalistic corporations are marketing everything so manly and estrogen-free to men. It has callbacks to 1950s sexist marketing. Advertisements and public service announcements are littered throughout the comic and the last issue of the volume is an entire issue of a Catfight: a Boy’s Guide to Dangerous Cats Winter Issue. I was intrigued to read Man-Eaters because Image Comics also published Bitch Planet, which is an amazing intersectional feminist comic. Unfortunately, Man-Eaters falls flat for me. Cain tries to tackle a lot of issues without nuance which led me to feel icky as I read. The water fountain scene evoking Jim Crow laws, but showing a white girl drinking was not a good move. Along with the issues I’ve mentioned, Cain has also created controversy by including a tweet that critiqued the comic in the latest issue. You can read more about that here. I can’t recommend this comic. There are better feminist comics being published by intersectional feminists you can include in your library collections; such as Kelly Sue DeConnick’s Bitch Planet, Marjorie Liu’s Monstress and G. Willow Wilson’s Ms. Marvel.
Man-Eaters, Volume 1
By Chelsea Cain
Art by Leah Miternique
Image Comics, 2018
Publisher Age Rating: Teen+